The political situation has not stabilized in the country since April 11, when former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was sent packing through a no-confidence vote. There are two core factors in growing political instability in the country. The first is a very clear division among political parties. The second factor is the role of non-political institutions of the state in the country’s political arena.
Insofar as the division among political parties is concerned, the ousted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government along with its ally, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), are on the one side, whereas 13 ruling parties, led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are on the other side.
Insofar as the ouster of the PTI government of former Prime Minister Imran Khan is concerned, it appears that Pakistanis have rejected this stage-managed vote of no-confidence in which the powers-that-be along with the PML-N and PPP leadership had bought political loyalties of PTI parliamentarians. The biggest indicator of this rejection by a majority of Pakistanis of the ouster of Imran Khan’s government was hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets voluntarily the next day (April 12) in the main cities and small towns and villages to protest the dislodging of his government. Because the manner in which the vote of no-confidence was processed in the National Assembly was bizarre. Moreover, the parties which ganged up to dislodge Imran Khan’s government, including the previously ruling PML-N, PPP, ANP, JUI-F of Fazl-ur-Rahman, MQM, Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) etc., have had a tainted past. Several of these parties’ governments were sent packing by former Presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari for their involvement in huge financial corruption, misuse of power and making colossal assets and properties. It had been their large-scale corruption that people voted in the July 2018 national election for the untested PTI.
Although the performance of the PTI or PM Imran Khan’s government from August 2018 to April 2022 had not been good at all. Rather it would be better to say that the performance of his government was quite poor in many respects and departments save a few. Nevertheless, PM Khan and his cabinet members have not been seen or proved to have been involved in mega corruption scandals. There may have been small-scale financial irregularities or even some substantial corruption that may come to the fore in future. However, more or less former Prime Minister Imran Khan personally has not been involved in any financial corruption or abuse of power. This is what strikes most to the people of Pakistan and, therefore, when his government was sent packing, people in a large number started protests and agitation, because financial corruption and misuse of power was the key difference between the PTI and former PML-N and PPP governments.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been claiming that his government had been shown the door by an America-led international conspiracy in which Pakistani elements were also involved because he was trying to adopt a fully independent foreign policy. This claim, which transformed into a narrative, may also have played a part in somewhat huge support of people for the PTI and Imran Khan after his ouster from power. Nevertheless, the people perceive Imran Khan as a clean and honest leader, which forced a huge number of people to come out in support for him or at least change their political attitudes in his favour. The popularity of Imran Khan has been growing rapidly after April 11 and when by-elections were held on 20 seats of the Punjab Assembly on July 22, the PTI returned with a landslide victory.
This electoral triumph of the PTI, which has restored its government in the largest province of Pakistan, has been something unprecedented. Because the party won elections against all odds. Both federal and Punjab government, the entire state machinery and the powers-that-be were giving tough opposition to the party. However, the PTI carried the day because a large number of people cast their vote for it. The election and the restoration of the PTI-PML-Q government in Punjab is another cause of political instability in Pakistan. Because the 13-party federal government is now limited to the federal capital, Islamabad, and Sindh province, where the PPP has a government singlehandedly. The key provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir have governments of the PTI. In this situation, in a country like Pakistan political stability is impossible. Pakistan is not a mature democracy where federal and provincial governments, even ruled by different parties, respect each other’s mandate and work according to the Constitution and law.
In the present situation, the party heading the federal government, PML-N, does not have a government in even one province of Pakistan. It is strange and absurd. However, the manner in which the present 13 parties’ regime was brought to power, which at the moment only has a one-vote majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan, reveals that it can never have governments in provinces.
Now the question arises of the way forward to come out of this political instability. The solution to the political instability and consequent economic meltdown is otherwise quite simple. That is to hold fresh national elections so that people are given an opportunity to elect a government of their choice. As Mr. Khan and the PTI have most of Pakistani public opinion in their favour and all surveys and discussions corroborate it, holding an election, as has been demanded by the PTI, does not suit all other political and non-political factors and institutions. For the latter, the writing is very much on the wall after the contemptuous defeat at the hands of the PTI in Punjab. Even those of the 13 current ruling political parties, which were previously in favour of new elections hoping to win a majority or a sizable number of seats in National and provincial assemblies, like the JUI-F, are now opposing the idea. So all these anti-PTI forces are trying their utmost to use non-political ways and means to prevent Imran Khan and the PTI from returning to power at the federal level. The decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on August 2 against the PTI in the foreign funding case pending before it for the last eight years is a clear indication that all forces in the country are hell-bent to stop Imran Khan’s way. This is not a good omen for Pakistan and democracy in the country, because the PTI at the moment is the most popular party and more importantly Imran Khan is the only political leader who represents the federation of Pakistan as he has a majority in KP, Punjab, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, while a substantial following in urban Sindh and even in Balochistan.